The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 12
All right, time to up the stakes, and ratchet up the emotion on all sides. People are pushed into corners, and characters take one step closer to making some finite decisions. Hwon takes one step forward in the big mystery of years past, but also suffers a setback as the baddies get crafty, too. And that cliffhanger leaves us wondering if we’ve hit a point of no return, or if our hero can find a way out. (Okay, I’m pretty sure it’s not a real point of no return, but at the same time I’ll have to remain in suspense another week. As will we all.)
SONG OF THE DAY
Lucid Fall – “어부가” [ Download ]
EPISODE 12 RECAP
A discouraged Yang-myung walks away from the puppet show, having seen Hwon and Wol sitting together. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
Without looking, he addresses the silent follower he knows is nearby, asking, “How long have you known?” Woon steps forward and asks if she really looks that much like that child. That’s enough to tell Yang-myung that the king has that same feeling of deja vu, and he suspects that this was meant to be kept a secret from him. He tells his friend, “Now you’ve become the king’s man entirely.” Woon looks sad, but can’t exactly protest that.
That evening, Hwon and Wol walk through the town. He says he enjoyed the show, but calls the story ridiculous — a commoner girl meets a king without knowing he’s the king, and they fall in love? How does a king even have time for romance with all his duties? The nation’s in trouble with such a foolish ruler at its helm. You might want to tread lightly there, King Loverpants, you’re pretty much asking to be smacked on the head with an anvil of irony.
Then he adds that the girl is just as absurd, for not realizing he’s the king from his kingly aura. Lol, I enjoy that Hwon has a streak of vanity. He starts to go on a rant about the implausibility of the script, but finds Wol looking at him, and she says, “The story is possible, because they are people. How can you explain what happens between person to person using only logic?”
He says he’ll pay her back later, and as he goes, she thinks to herself sadly that she won’t be seeing him tonight.
Yang-myung approaches as she walks along, telling her he sent Jan-shil back home. She confirms that he’s Jan-shil’s supposed generous and free-spirited helper, having worried that she’d gotten caught in a scam. Yang-myung steps up and asks, “If such a scammer were this handsome, wouldn’t it be worth being caught once?” Ooh, yes please.
Wol turns to leave, and he gets serious all of a sudden, asking why, if she was so worried, she’d only remembered Jan-shil now? He asks if she was so captivated by something that she forgot who she’d come for, and who would be waiting for her. He says he doesn’t know if he can do it again: “Watching you looking at another place, another person.”
He leaves her wondering at those words.
Hwon is prepared for bed by a nagging Hyung-sun, who is lecturing him about the wild snowman chase from earlier and all the pains he went through to get the pointless thing, with fresh snow from the roof. Hwon just says, “But luckily, you’re still alive.”
Hyung-sun whines about his poor hands, so cold from all the snow, so Hwon grabs them in his own. He pulls Hyung-sun toward himself and says, “Let me warm your hands with my hot chest.” Omg, he cracks me up. Hyung-sun is the very definition of “can’t take a joke” and given the rumors that are already swirling about the king’s preferred bedmate, Hyung-sun reliably freaks out and scrambles to leave, arms crossed over his chest.
Hwon smiles as he anticipates Wol’s arrival, having prepared money as repayment for the puppet theater.
At the same time, Nok-young is giving Wol her instructions for leaving the capital the next morning. Wol has misgivings and asks if she can see the king one last time, wanting to say goodbye and last words. She promises to leave right away, and pleads for permission.
Bo-kyung stews in her chambers, recalling her spy’s latest report about Wol’s resemblance to Yeon-woo. So she sets out and intercepts the shaman-charm on her way to the king; she slaps on a smile and asks Wol to uncover herself so she can speak to her.
She complies, but it’s not Wol — just another shaman. Bo-kyung finds nothing remarkable in her appearance, and looks appeased.
Hwon hears his doors opening and starts to address Wol, but when he looks up his face hardens — it’s Bo-kyung standing there. She tells him she has figured out what he’s been hiding from her, because eight years ago when she first met him in the Silver/Hidden Moon building, he had shot her the same look when he realized she wasn’t who he meant to see.
Hwon angrily reminds her of his warning not to drop in unannounced. Bo-kyung raises her voice too, asking what about that lowly shaman has him so captivated. She tells him to go ahead and take that shaman into his heart; she won’t care. Because no matter whom he loves, she is the one seated at his side: “You will have to acknowledge that soon.”
The new shaman enters, explaining that she is the new amulet, working to facilitate the consummation. The amulet to draw out evil has finished her duty and will be leaving Seongsucheong soon.
Seol can tell from Wol’s expression that she’s on the verge of tears as she packs her things, saying that the hard-hearted Nok-young could have at least consented to let her say goodbye. Just then Nok-young enters and orders Wol to dress as the amulet; she’s been called by the king.
As he leads her, Hyung-sun tries to politely ask her not to upset the king, but she understands without being told and assures him that she won’t.
Hwon paces anxiously, and when Wol enters he demands to know who gave her permission to leave, especially after she told him she would ease his pain. She says that her job is done now, and that she can’t replace that other woman. He loses his temper and she reminds him forcefully that he’s the one who ordered her not to come close. Hwon yells back, “I did not order you to go far away!”
He calms down and tells her she’s right. Looking at her now throws him into confusion, because he can’t tell if he’s looking at that child or Wol’s past self: “But until I can put that confusion to rest, until I can know what it is I feel, don’t you dare… go far away. That is a royal order.”
Queen mother tells Bo-kyung of their new consummation date, which is in several days’ time. She’s smug that this time Hwon won’t be able to thwart the issue with excuses of his health, and asks to see her father.
Minister Yoon finds record books being taken outside and confers with the minister in charge. He hears of Hwon’s angry fit, and how the damaged books are now being laid out in the sun. Now they realize that a few volumes are missing from eight years ago, and this fact strikes Minister Yoon as alarming. And yet, when the official goes to check, the books are back in their place, thanks to Woon.
That’s one point for Team King, but they’re met with bad news: the former attendant to the previous king has committed suicide.
Officers swarm the estate, where they find the man’s body hanging from the ceiling. The chief officer declares that it’s a pretty obvious case of suicide, so what they should look at is the reason for the death.
Hwon fixates on the mystery: What was the man hiding? What is it that he’s being kept from finding out? He sends Hwon to bring every relevant record on file with the Euigeumbu (a royal investigative/judicial department, like a cross between police and courthouse), and to make sure this remains hushed up.
This calls for the reappearance of a familiar face, and a man is brought before the king, wondering at the summons and feeling a sense of deja vu. It’s the same Sungkyunkwan scholar young Hwon had once persuaded into leading students in a rally, now in service at the Euigeumbu, named Hong Kyu-tae.
Hwon explains that when records pass through other hands first, he is kept from the truth. Therefore, he assigns Hong Kyu-tae to pretend to be investigating the suicide, while actually finding out the truth of the princess’s death eight years ago.
Minister Yoon is wary enough to report to the queen dowager that the king has been engaging in suspicious behavior that seems linked to the events of eight years past. On the other hand, queenie is feeling comfortable, saying that moving up the consummation was a heavenly boon.
Ah, and here we have another fissure in this alliance, with one side using logic and the other relying heavily on the Powers That Be. I find the queen’s obsession with the supernatural intriguing, and wonder if it will be her undoing.
The queen dowager says the king won’t find anything, and even if he does, they’ll cover it up. What, with six feet of dirt? Her complacency is interesting, and satisfying (given that she’ll get hers in the end).
Yeom reads, bathed in soft backlighting, which is the way Min-hwa views him through her lovestruck eyes. She tells him dreamily that he’s at his most handsome while reading, but then sighs that he won’t spare a glance for her. An idea pops into her head: “If I covered myself in writing… would you look at me more?” Ha. I dare you to say yes, just to make her do it.
But a servant is on hand to dash the romance in that idea, telling her that erasing the writing is sure to be a pain. And then we see that Yeom isn’t in the room after all — since he’s away on his travels — and Min-hwa had been fantasizing the whole thing. Hilariously, she’s annoyed at her servant for interrupting just when she was about to meet Fantasy Yeom’s gaze. What, you can’t even make him love you in your dreams?
She decides to look after Yeom’s mother, per his request, finding her reading a letter from the queen dowager. Hearing about the soon-to-be consummation night, Min-hwa decides to drop by the palace to see Bo-kyung.
First, Min-hwa consults her books to jot down some helpful tips, like how lying on one side increases your likelihood of bearing a son.
She runs into her grandmother at the palace, who teases her about never visiting. Min-hwa visibly stiffens to confront her grandmother; it’s likely she’s never been comfortable around her since witnessing Yeon-woo’s death rite. She stammers at Granny’s invitation to walk together, inventing an excuse to leave right away.
Hwon is visited by the head of the royal astrology office, which is in charge of designating those consummation dates. He is given the new date, and responds that his health is not improved enough, overriding the physician who declares him fit. The astrology officers urge him to make use of this fortune before the heavenly energy shifts, but he angrily orders them away.
Bo-kyung tells her father she’s not worried that this upcoming date may not happen, saying that she’ll find a way. Her father is alarmed when Bo-kyung tells him that the king’s behavior points to him being in love with the shaman, and he wants to dismiss her immediately. Bo-kyung says no, that until the royal consummation, that charm must remain by his side. She will use the king’s affections in ensuring the consummation. Um, I hope we’re not talking about costume changes or tricks, because I foresee that ending badly for all.
Bo-kyung has accepted — prehaps for the first time — that she wno’t win Hwon’s love after all, so now she says that if she can’t have it, she’ll at least use it to her own ends.
An extravagant delivery is made to Seongsucheong, containing shamanic accessories of high quality. Jan-shil (who has been accepted back after all, perhaps after Nok-young was assured she’s been scared straight) hands over the deliverer’s letter — Yang-myung.
Wol immediately heads out and finds Yang-myung waiting. She asks why he sent her the gifts, and he says, “Because I like you.” Woot woot for the assertive prince! She tells him the joke is inappropriate (the same words Yeon-woo used), and he says he’s not joking.
She says he can’t know enough about her to declare affection. He replies, “Because you were the first. You told me not to hide behind laughs, and not to deceive myself. That I should let go of the pain in my heart. You were the first to say that to me, and those words comforted me.” He concedes that she’s right in saying he knew little about her, but for her resemblance to someone else, “But now that’s not the case. The person I see now is you.”
Aww. Pick him! Pick him!
Nok-young stands before her shrine, worried that the fates of those who must not meet are once again entwining. Bad mojo is in the wind, and it makes her uneasy. She’s with her old accomplice, who wonders how a human can interfere with the winds of fate. Nok-young answers that the chance to end all this disruption comes in three days’ time. If the consummation is successful, the connection will sever and she will be able to send Wol away to safety.
Her accomplice warns her of “the truth we buried” coming to light, but she says that it won’t matter even if it does.
That night, Wol sits with Hwon, looking at him while he reads. He tells her that he knows he’s good-looking, but that she shouldn’t stare, and she laughs. He gets all, “Did you just laugh at me?” and orders her to follow him out for a walk.
Standing outside in the snowy courtyard, Wol asks what has him especially troubled today. He tells her that a man took his life today, and that he was the reason for it: “Death’s shadow always follows those around me. The people I care for all fall into danger. I could not protect them all, and not only that, but I could not ease their bitterness.”
Wol tells him this is not his fault, and that those people all know how he tried to protect them. He tells her to use her mystical powers to answer him: Will the truth he seeks come to light? She says yes, and he repeats the question, asking her to answer with her personal thoughts this time. She says yes again, telling him she has faith in him: “A tangled knot will not unravel all at once. But if you pull at each part of that knot, one by one, one day that hidden truth will be revealed.”
He thanks her, moved by her faith: “That is the first warm comfort I have received in a long time.”
Minister Yoon presses to retain the new consummation date, to the ire of Hwon, who insists he’s not well enough. But the minister has prepared a crafty trap of technicalities, saying that he has kept the evil-warding amulet with him for quite some time now. Is he saying that it has had no effect? Because if not, perhaps it’s the fault of the amulet, who will be have to be dealt with accordingly. You know, destroyed in the name of national security.
Ah, so this is how Bo-kyung will manipulate Hwon using his love. The end result will be that Wol leaves the palace, either alive or dead. Minister Yoon had asked her what she would do if Hwon insisted on keeping Wol with him even after the consummation.
She had replied that this means Daddy gets to step up and mobilize the scholars for his purposes, because how could the king, the model of the state, justify hiding a woman away in the palace in light of the Confucian principles holding up the nation?
The shamans busily clean Seongsucheong, and when Jan-shil protests at the excessive chores, another shaman tells her that they have to prepare for prayers, in light of the consummation tonight. Wol registers this with alarm, while Hwon sits in gloom, immune to Hyung-sun’s attempts to reason with him.
Hwon bursts out, “How can you say that, too?” Hyung-sun tells him that continued refusal only increases the danger to Wol. Hwon puts his head in his hand and tells Hyung-sun not to bring her to him tonight.
He is attended to that night by the royal physician, dressed, and treated with acupuncture and medicine.
Bo-kyung, meanwhile, is dressed in her own finery and awaits the king’s arrival. He makes the walk to her quarters like someone heading to his execution, stone-faced and morose.
Wol is given an order to stay away. Yang-myung finds her fighting tears in the courtyard, having guessed she heard the news. He tells her that this is to be expected of the king, who must provide an heir, which doesn’t ease her heartsickness any. She knows everything he’s telling her but her tears come anyway, and with hers come his. He asks if he can’t be the one for her.
The king and queen sit together, and he starts to undress according to the procedure outlined for them. Are they not even to have this allowed them in their own way? Yeesh. I’m pretty sure the order of hat-belt-sock removal won’t affect rate of conception.
Unforgiving to the last, Hwon says that Bo-kyung must be happy to finally have gotten her way. She answers that this isn’t something only she wants; it’s the hope of everybody, including their citizens.
Wol tells Yang-myung to go back home, but he presses — will she come with him? It’s an echo of their earlier conversation as teenagers, only this time he won’t back down and play it off as a joke. He says he’s tired of being a prince and wants to leave that position. He is ready to run away, and furthermore, continuing as shaman is not good for Wol, either. If she wants to run away, will she run with him?
Hwon sits silently simmering, and Bo-kyung reminds him that no matter what, she is his woman. And all of a sudden he grabs her, pulling her toward him, and touches her face. He says, “Even if you cannot have my heart, you still want to mother the nation’s next king. Fine. For you, I will untie my robe.”
Lordy, this drama takes “Will they or won’t they” literally, and to extremes. It’s an interesting conflict, and one we don’t often see, so I welcome the fact that we’re exploring a familiar problem (two lovers who Cannot Be) in a new way.
That said, it does keep the romantic angst at a fairly basic level, which makes me wish there were more to this story. Somewhere in the past week or two, the story has become all about the king refusing to bed his queen, and the opposition insisting he do it. The arguments have been going around in circles for a while now, and every time the king roared, “I cannot!” and “This is a royal order!” I felt like we were pulling the string in the back of the talking doll.
I wish the Hwon-Wol romance had more development to it, because now it’s in that stage of the story where they’re apart, then they’re not, and then they are again. If this were a modern drama, this would mark the umpteenth time the hero moved out of the apartment, or the heroine ran away to spare him pain, or maybe an enraged parent stepped in to oppose the relationship. Round and round we go.
On one hand, I really like that the hero is married, on a narrative level. It takes the forbidden romance to a realistic place, with some real stakes. But on the other hand, this also trips me up a little, because he’s married. It wasn’t to the woman of his choice, but as a head of state in a patrilineal system of rulership, he’s also got a duty to procreate. (Not saying I agree it’s right, but them’s the facts of the time and of the position.)
So when he refuses to bed his wife out of hatred for her clan, I don’t know what to make of it. Is he actually defying the entire dynastic system and determined to let it die out? Or is he just crossing his arms and digging in his heels like an angsty teenager refusing to be ordered around? I’d like to believe his stance has a nobler intent behind it, but since he’s never expressed a problem with the nature of succession or an ideological resistance to monarchial rule, I can’t help but feel the latter is more likely. And that feels like a narrative problem to me.
I suspect that if the romance felt more… desperate, I might be rooting more for him to chuck aside the wife. I buy that he loves Yeon-woo and is attracted to Wol, and I buy that she’s starting to fall for him too, but their attachment seems so tentative. I might be pulling for them if their relationship felt stronger, if it conveyed the feeling of star-crossed lovers like Moon Chae-won and Park Shi-hoo in The Princess’s Man — there, the connection ran so deep and was fueled with such fierce attachment that you believed they’d do anything to stay together. Here, not so much. I don’t need them to be like the other couple; they just have to have more rapport. He’s the king who — like the puppet he mocked — is preoccupied with a love life that keeps him in fits, and she’s a morose, fatalistic heroine who decides she has to just let things happen as they’re meant to happen.
Yang-myung is the only character who’s showing some gumption now, which is such a relief. Despite my love of Jung Il-woo, I was pretty much on the Hwon train all this while, more than anything because Wol/Yeon-woo has never shown interest in him. But when he gave his “I see you” speech, I felt myself pulling for him for the first time.
I don’t know. The show’s entertaining, for sure, but it’s not really sticking with me these days. There isn’t enough to cling to, because the story’s sort of stuck at surface level. At least it’s a very pretty, elaborately designed surface. I hope the upcoming murder investigation delving into Yeon-woo’s death will bring some of that excitement back.
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 11
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 10
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 9
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 8
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 7
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 6
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 5
- Interviews with Moon/Sun’s child actors
- Jung Il-woo and the adults of Moon/Sun to appear this week
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 4
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 3
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 2
- The Moon That Embraces the Sun: Episode 1